Feeds

Mafia boss undone by clumsy crypto

Little Caesar

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Clues left in the clumsily encrypted notes of a Mafia don have helped Italian investigators to track his associates and ultimately contributed to his capture after years on the run.

The recently busted Bernardo Provenzano, reputed to be the "boss of bosses" of the Sicilian Mafia, used a modified form of the Caesar cipher to obscure "sensitive information" in notes left to either his family or underlings.

According to a biography (written by Italian journalists Salvo Palazzolo and Ernesto Oliva) on bernardoprovenzano.net, the content of these notes varied from meal requests to his family to orders to his lieutenants where numbers were used to disguise people's names.

Provenzano, 73, was arrested last week in a farm close to his home town of Corleone on the Italian island of Sicily after almost 40 years on the run. He's accused of numerous homicides including the 1992 murder of two judges, a crime that earned him a life sentence in absentia. Provenzano who earned the nickname Binnu u tratturi (Binnu the tractor) because of his rep for mowing down enemies, latterly took to writing instructions incorporating basic encryption on small scraps of paper, known locally as pizzini.

The classic Caesar cipher moves every letter in the alphabet three charecters later (so A becomes D and B becomes E, etc.). The so-called Binnu code assigns a number in order to each letter in the Italian alphabet and adds three to that number in the ciphertext so that "A" is 4, "B" is 5 and so on.

The code would have been more secure if the numerical shift applied to the ciphertext was varied from time to time. As it was, the contents of messages was readily deciphered. "Looks like kindergarten cryptography to me. It will keep your kid sister out, but it won't keep the police out. But what do you expect from someone who is computer illiterate?" security guru Bruce Schneier told Discovery News.

Provenzano left school aged only eight, a factor which might explain the simplistic nature of the way sensitive messages, normally typed out on old typewriters, were encoded. The decipherment of the pizzini sent and received by Provenzano allowed police to identify his associates and ultimately contributed to investigative efforts that led to Provenzano's arrest, Discovery News reports. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Facebook's Zuckerberg in EBOLA VIRUS FIGHT: Billionaire battles bug
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contacted as site supremo coughs up
Space exploration is just so lame. NEW APPS are mankind's future
We feel obliged to point out the headline statement is total, utter cobblers
Swiss wildlife park serves up furry residents to visitors
'It's ecological' says spokesman, now how would you like your Bambi done?
Down-under record: Australian gets $140k for pussy
'Tiffany' closes deal - 'it's more common to offer your wife', says agent
Internet finally ready to replace answering machine cassette tape
It's a simple message and I'm leaving out the whistles and bells
FedEx helps deliver THOUSANDS of spam messages DIRECT to its Blighty customers
Don't worry Wilson, I'll do all the paddling. You just hang on
The iPAD launch BEFORE it happened: SPECULATIVE GUFF ahead of actual event
Nerve-shattering run-up to the pre-planned known event
Win a year’s supply of chocolate (no tech knowledge required)
Over £200 worth of the good stuff up for grabs
STONER SHEEP get the MUNCHIES after feasting on £4k worth of cannabis plants
Baaaaaa! Fanny's Farm's woolly flock is high, maaaaaan
Red Bull does NOT give you wings, $13.5m lawsuit says so
Website letting consumers claim $10 cash back crashes after stampede
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.